Clocks ruined time. Such a declarative statement seems out of place, a complete contradiction.Yet, when people attempted to control time, plan time, co-opt time, yes, even tell time, time actually lost its place. You see, time and place go together. You cannot have one without the other. “When” and “where” are uttered in the same breath. Indeed, physicists tell us that matter, space, and time must exist together; one cannot be apart from the other two. What difference does all this make? Humans have unwittingly given jurisdiction of their lives to digital readouts; we are servants to the time-clock. In so doing, place is torn from its moorings; time became a commodity, dragging space with it.
One must thank Howard Mansfield for dragging us back. Turn & Jump is a marvelous rollick through periods where place mattered. Diarists begin the tales as people who mark their days with the distinctiveness of time wedded with place. Pithy proverbs such as “clocks are a fiction we accept in order to get on with our day” and “once time was a river, now time was money” dot Mansfield’s pages. Over and over Turn & Jump—a metaphor for the tempestuous life of vaudevillians hustling money within short stretches of time over the long haul of place—tells tale after tale of history which has lost its historical significance.
Some will blame the loss of meaning on commerce with its pulsating press for time. But others will rightly question, “Was the invention of the clock what forged the mills of commerce?” One suspects both had their influence. As the hurry-up of time pressed people, boundaries changed. Railroads created time zones. Instead of a worker bowing to the sun’s traverse across the sky, he now bows to a punch clock. “Here was merging with there,” as Mansfield succinctly says. “The more precise and uniform timekeeping became, the more time fragmented” (38). Now each person was their own sovereign. Time, now separated from place, allowed the division of past, present, and future. People declared their own usurpation of time, making it do their bidding.
Mansfield’s strength is how he tells about time and place with multiple stories—result of a researcher’s long hours. Episodes of life cascade over the waterfall of our reading; a joy for which we simply gaze in wonder. I was especially taken by the description of the New England meeting house, a decorated shed. “The worship mattered, not the church.” So important is this idea that Mansfield concludes by saying, “We should look more closely at the life that flows through [the house]. The continuous show is inside” (100). Time meets place and creates meaning. People cannot live well without meaning. We think we control time only to find that time now controls us. Mansfield does well to end his story montage in the graveyard. Time will ultimately prevail. We cannot control what cannot be controlled. Time will continue without us.
“Our life,” says James, “lasts for a little time and then vanishes” (4:14; see also Proverbs 27:1). Mansfield, whether he knows it or not, speaks true Truth. God created time, matter, and place. The perfection of creation in Genesis bolsters Mansfield’s deepest desire for time and place to be one. The incarnation brings a real person in time and space, Jesus, uniting the rising sun with the place where we witness each new dawn. And not to be missed is the consummation of time and place. One day, there will not be a need for the sun, because we will have The Son. Mansfield’s Turn & Jump is important because it reminds us that something is missing. We yearn for a time and a place where we can rest and enjoy. “Turn and jump” will no longer remind us of fast-paced life, but will be included in the eternal dance by The One who has given us New Time in a New Place.
Howard Mansfield. 2010. Turn & Jump: How Time & Place Fell Apart. (Down East). Reviewed by Mark Eckel, Dean, Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Old Testament at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN. This review also appears in the new print edition of englewoodreview.org for October 2010.
Mark Eckel is Professor of Old Testament. His writing can be accessed at www.warpandwoof.org